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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wherein Michael Ruse Avoids My Questions

Michael Ruse gave a presentation tonight at the CFI World Congress on “Darwinism [sic] and Christianity: Do They Conflict and Does It Matter?” that I mostly could accept. He made some good points that there are some simliarities in the claims of Dawkins and the claims of intelligent design theorists that science and religion are apparently irreconcilable, but then ended with this question:

If Darwinism [sic] implies atheism, does teaching it [evolution] in school become unconstitutional?

In other words, Ruse is saying that if a parent objects to what a child is being taught in science class, even if the teacher does not make a specific religious claim, that scientific claim thus becomes a religious claim and becomes unconstitutional.

I stood up and asked the following:

“If evolution implies atheism, or is being made to imply atheism by Dawkins as you claim, and is therefore unconstitutional to teach in school, 1) what about all the other sciences that underpin evolution, in particular geology, which caused great anguish among people that I knew, 2) isn’t science going to have implications for anyone who pre-emptively makes a cosmic claim without evidence, and 3) hasn’t Dawkins in particular repeatedly made the point that the essential conflict is between evidence versus credulity, or faith, rather than just evolution versus Christianity?”

That is a question. I asked him a question. Michael Ruse waved it off and said, “We’ll put that in the ‘comment’ section.” Then he went on to accuse Eddie Tabash of “lacking integrity” because Tabash pointed out that science in the public schools is not taught to attack anyone’s religion but to present knowledge backed by evidence that people need to have to be educated.

Then, Michael Ruse drew the analogy that a science teacher who taught evolution without mentioning the Bible or God, but nevertheless caused a conflict within a student who was indoctrinated by creationism, was attacking that student’s beliefs (actually that student’s parents’ beliefs) and therefore violating the Constitution!

Using this argument, Michael Ruse then compared the above science teacher to a teacher who taught the students that “some animals with certain genitals are inferior to other animals with different genitals,” and then claimed, “Oh, I said nothing about men and women! I didn’t teach one was inferior to another!” Now, I ask you, is that analogy apt? Considering I was the only woman who asked a question, and it didn’t get answered?

Well, a man asked him if a teacher taught that the value of pi was 3.14 but a parent believes that it is three (as it is in the Bible), if the teacher was, according to Ruse, violating the Constitution. Ruse said yes! (Then he attempted to spin it and accused Tabash again of being dishonest.)

Then he said, “I agree with Eddie Tabash! I don’t want The Flood taught in schools!” ignoring the obvious fact that, by what he claimed above, any teacher teaching geology would, according to Ruse, be attacking theology, rendering the teaching of geology “unconstitutional” and allowing that parent to block the subject or remove the child.


Michael Ruse then went on and on about how “basic Christianity doesn’t require people to literally believe in the Bible.” Hell, I’d like to know who these “basic Christians” are. As a teen-ager I had to explain to someone in my life that the earth was round and orbited the sun. I got into arguments with the other kids about how my agate, which I found when I was nine, was formed. I argued and argued against “creation science” in the 1980s. One coworker, when she learned that I was an atheist (I was nineteen and waitressing in Maplewood), gasped, flung herself across the room away from me, then recovered a bit and asked, “So you believe in evolution?” No DUH!

As we were walking out, Ruse opined, "Well, I suppose there still could be people who use the Bible to justify slavery," and I called out, "Yes, there are!" Geez, hello Ruse! In fact, the ID folks are arguing that Darwin's anti-slavery conscience enslaved people all the more!

How the hell can Michael Ruse compare a teacher teaching evolution in class and not adding “and this is why the Bible is not true” to a teacher teaching that females are inferior to males?

What is wrong with this man? Why does he pick this fight, when in fact the denizens of the Discovery Institute are taking all religious language out of their literature anyway, in their efforts to shoe-horn intelligent design in schools? (“Teach the controversy…” “Strengths and weaknesses…” “Critical analysis…”) Ruse must really be out of touch!

This is a class issue. This is about social class, and how can Ruse understand that? He probably never missed a spring break in Florida or Cancun. (I waitressed, or just stayed home, over my spring breaks.) Education is about providing greater class mobility, whether or not the graduate goes on to make gobs of money. People are not just geocentrists and flat-earthers because they're fundamentalists - they can also be Democrats, union workers, generally liberals, yet geocentrists and flat-earthers because they're uneducated.

Being hampered by unnecessary, superstitious fear, or guilt, or repulsion of certain ideas (such as being related to apes) limits a person’s ability to view evidence. As Orwell said, whoever controls the past controls the future. Creationism is a nice little pastime for those who are well off (and I would add that Ruse’s question is also a nice little elitist paradox for him to enjoy because he never had to waitron his way through college), but it has real consequences for people less fortunate.

Creationism doesn't make people feel "special," it scares them to death.

Yet what I'm hearing (because Ruse's "teaching" has implications too) is that it doesn't matter to him whether or not I was educated at all.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Discovery Institute actually took up his argument, and start using it as well.

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Blogger Umlud said...

I've been tempted to ask the following questions when faced by an IDiot spouting that science = religion, therefore evolution should not be taught in public schools:

* Earthquakes & fault zones should not be taught because it goes against the Shinto belief that a giant salamander is what causes earthquakes.

* Gravity should not be taught, since it goes against how the Indo-Aryan texts say an earth - split into seven layers - is held aloft (i.e., by a serpent)

* Geography should not be taught, since the issue of a spheroid earth goes against the writings of Hindu scriptures, etc.

* Astronomy should not be taught, since learning about solar and lunar eclipses runs counter to the Hindu belief that demons swallow the sun and moon, causing eclipses.

I always wonder what these people would say when faced by the crazy beliefs of other faiths (some of which, in total numbers, are equal to the number of adherents of Christianity). I mainly "pick on" the Hindus here because it's a massive religion that is still alive today (as opposed to ancient Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and Celtic religions).

April 10, 2009 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering why you write Darwinism [sic]? It appears to be spelled correctly, or is that a political sign that we should expunge the "ism" from the word?


April 10, 2009 12:01 PM  
Blogger whispers said...

Michael Ruse has a basic understanding of what the First Amendment means with regard to the freedom of religion. There are two clauses: the free exercise clause and the establishment clause. The free exercise clause does not imply that facts cannot be introduced into the public realm that might cause people to doubt their religion. Nobody's religion entitles them to a fact-free zone which would require everybody else to play along with their beliefs.

Indeed, Ruse runs straight into the establishment clause with his suggestion. The government is not allowed to actively support any establishment of religion. And yet, that is exactly what Ruse is suggesting. He's suggesting not only must the government play along with any (and presumably all) religious beliefs, but also must place said religion in an exalted position in our culture, whereby any information that might tend to cause doubt among believers, must be suppressed by the state.

If that's not state support of religion, I don't know what is.

As Umlud points out, basically no science could be taught at all, if the standard of "does not contradict any religious belief" is to be applied.

Personally, I think it is worth pointing out that pretty much all of the basic tenets of Christianity are contradicted by science. In particular, we know that resurrection is a scientific impossibility. And yet that is part of the core of Christian theology.

And yes, DM suffers from severe psychiatric problems and should seek medial assistance before he hurts others or himself.

April 10, 2009 12:56 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Just wondering why you write Darwinism [sic]? It appears to be spelled correctly.

I use [sic] because it's a word that the intelligent design crowd invented to disparage scientists. They started using "Darwinists" because they're part of the anti-communist, anti-humanist, anti-feminist, etc. hold-overs who need an "enemy." Using "Darwinist" and "Darwinism" gives them their enemy. Ruse uses it because he's friendly with these ID folk, but it should not be used. There is Darwinian evolution, but not "Darwinism."

Good points, Umlud and whispers. In fact, it occurs to me that Ruse makes much the same argument as Larry Caldwell did in Caldwell vs. Caldwell.

April 10, 2009 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found it odd because there is a very long historiography of the term (as I am sure you know). It may be co-opted now as a term of derision (as is "liberal," by Wingnuts), but it certainly does help as a term to describe late Victorian thinking about the ideas surrounding Darwin's theories (and helpful to distinguish these from those of the later Synthesis, also called Neo-D). By using [sic] you acknowledge it as a political term, which validates its misuse. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with talking or thinking about Darwinism, i.e., descent with modification via NS and all the other good stuff in the Origin. Incidentally, I do agree we need to get beyond thinking of contemporary evolutionary theory as "Darwinism." But, that in no way suggests there is no such thing.

And, I believe Ruse uses it (as a former student of his) because he is a historian and philosopher of science and sees no problem with it as a descriptive term. Incidentally, Ruse is a friendly person to most people.


April 10, 2009 6:44 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

It has a long history because it originally referred to the ideas of Erasmus Darwin, Charles' grandfather, who published Zoonomia 60 years before Origin of Species. If Ruse is going to use it, why not use "Darwinism-Mendelism" then?

I'm sure he's a nice guy to whoever he's being nice to.

April 10, 2009 7:33 PM  
Blogger Russell Blackford said...

Ruse is wrong, but the reasons why he's wrong are genuinely complex. One way to show that he is wrong is to do what Umlud is doing in a comment above - show the ridiculous implications if the view were right. But actually explaining where Ruse goes wrong requires explaining some issues in legal philosophy that Ruse doesn't understand, and (in my experience) most other people don't either. Although Ruse is a good philosopher in many ways, he's not a good philosopher of law.

The trouble is, the last thing we want is someone of Ruse's calibre roaming around creating even more confusion, as he seems to be doing.

By the way, Kristine, I used to agree with you about the words "Darwinism" and "Darwinist", but now I'm not so sure. Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne both use these words freely, and Dawkins in particular seems to think that eschewing them is giving in to the enemy or something like that (I'm not sure I entirely understand his position).

April 10, 2009 9:01 PM  
Blogger Rev. Barky said...

Rude never suggests what should be done about teaching evolution. As a practical matter, how can any teacher be expected to have knowledge of all religious road apples? Science stands on its own. If it offends someone, they should not listen to it. That's why there is home schooling

April 10, 2009 9:44 PM  
Blogger Rev. Barky said...

Tyo - "Ruse" - not "Rude"

April 10, 2009 9:45 PM  
Blogger RBH said...

I rather think that Ruse has fallen in love with the sound of his own voice, and no longer knows what he thinks until he hears himself talk.

April 10, 2009 10:53 PM  
Blogger Russell Blackford said...

I must add that whispers summarised the position well when s/he said: "The free exercise clause does not imply that facts cannot be introduced into the public realm that might cause people to doubt their religion. Nobody's religion entitles them to a fact-free zone which would require everybody else to play along with their beliefs."

While I was complaining that the legal theory here is genuinely complex, that formulation does summarise the position rather nicely.

I'll try to remember that way of explaining it. Whether Ruse could get his head around it is another thing. Much as I like Ruse when he's talking about things, he seems to have got into a real muddle on issues like this.

April 10, 2009 11:43 PM  
Blogger Russell Blackford said...

Damn a typo ... I meant to say "when he's talking about other things ..."

April 10, 2009 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

“If evolution implies atheism, or is being made to imply atheism by Dawkins as you claim..."

The theory of evolution does undermine religion, and implies atheism otherwise Dawkins would not like

It's not geology itself that "underpins" evolution, it's the interpretation of the data. Just like the evolutionary story about the Kenyan blades which were found to be supposedly 500,000 years old. Supposedly these pre-humans couldn't ride a horse for many tens of thousands of years but they sure knew how to make knives...

The fact of the matter is, the Kenyan knives were made by humans, not half human, not part human, but fully human as the Bible says. So yes, there is a conflict between evolution which implies no God and creationism which implies a God.

I didn't like Michael Ruse response to the question, he seemed lazy to answer it. It wasn't like it was unanswerable...

April 11, 2009 5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Darwinism-Mendelism" is probably best, but we have been left with the Modern Synthesis (I usually just call it the Synthesis). Incidentally, was reading an interesting article "Darwinian Evolution in the Light of Genomics" and it ends by playfully asking if "a Postmodern Synthesis is conceivable, or even in sight?" This is done to suggest the dynamic qualities within a genome that may bugger any attempt to formulate any general principles to understand its complexity. If such a term catches on (which I highly doubt) it will be a pleasant reminder that terms are simply tools (often political, always protean).

Mr. Blackford

Good point. Ruse is certainly not a philosopher of Law. This may be a perfect example of reaching when one should intuitively know to withdraw.

April 11, 2009 6:03 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I agree with Kristine that the term "Darwinism" should either be quoted or followed by "[sic]". It's a term that has no scientific meaning, since Darwin was proposing a theory, not a philosophy. If we want to reference the original Theory, with all its limitations at the time, we use the "-ian" suffix, e.g. Newtonian Mechanics, Copernican Model, Darwinian Evolution.

The article mentioned by Anonymous in the previous post shows the use of "Darwinian" in this context.

The term "Darwinism" is either an attempt to reference a non-existent philosophy (in which case it should be enclosed in quotes), or a mistaken reference to "Darwinian Evolution", in which case [sic] is appropriate.

Of course, we know why religious critics like to deliberately use the terms "Darwinism" and "Darwinistic" - in order to detach the Theory from its evidence, and turn it into simply a competing philosophy. We don't have to go along with this transparent charade - and should continue qualifying these terms that have no scientific meaning.

April 11, 2009 7:21 AM  
Blogger Test said...

Chris, I mentioned the article in the context of how terms are used and the article's suggestion of the possibility of a Postmodern Synthesis (good catch on the fact "Darwinian" is used though in the title). But, to be honest, your assessment that a term shouldn't be used because it's not scientific is bordering on the tyrannical. It's an empirical fact that the term is used across a variety of secular disciplines. No one discipline owns it (certainly not IDers). And there's a reason why we use Darwinism and not Newtonism. It's helpful as a label to distinguish concepts in the cultural sphere, which Darwinism certainly is. Now, a more cogent critique might be to focus on ther term's misuse for political means by IDers: their facile argument that modern evolutionary theory equates to a metanarrative of Darwinism/Evolutionism. I imagine just putting "Darwinism" in scare quotes will be enough to mark it as problematic. [Sic]suggests, confusingly, it's misspelled, and more importantly an acknowledgment of its political use (which allows the enemy to dictate its use).

April 11, 2009 8:46 AM  
Blogger llewelly said...

How sad. I had thought Ruse was one of the 'good guys'. But it sounds like he has bought shiny new shark-jumping boots from Nisbet Inc.

April 11, 2009 12:55 PM  
Blogger llewelly said...

The fact of the matter is, the Kenyan knives were made by humans, not half human, not part human, but fully human as the Bible says. So yes, there is a conflict between evolution which implies no God and creationism which implies a God.

I will assume you refer to this fallacy-filled ICR article.

A realistic treatment can be found in Science.

Evolution does not require particular abilities to evolve at particular times. 500,000 year old stone blades do not present a problem for evolution. Instead (if the dating is correct), they call for a revision in our perception of the tool-making capability of early humans ( here, humans == all members of genus Homo) of that time.

April 11, 2009 2:06 PM  
Blogger Michael Drake said...

I can't believe Ruse is still making this stupid argument. Teaching a subject that entails the truth of atheism (I'll call such subjects "α-subjects") neither establishes religion nor prohibits the free exercise of religion, and so is "religiously neutral" for purposes of constitutional analysis. It's not establishment because:

1. Atheism is not a "religion";*
2. The secular purpose of teaching α-subjects is (in the language of Edwards v. Aguillard) "enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction";
3. The primary effect of teaching α-subjects is enhancing students' knowledge of science, not inhibiting or promoting any particular religion; and
4. In teaching α-subjects, there is no "entanglement" between the state and any religion.

And it doesn't impede the free exercise of religion because:

1. The government has a compelling interest (see point (2) above) in teaching α-subjects; and
2. Teaching α-subjects is part of a general educational policy that does not target any particular religious practice.

And thank goodness for all that--otherwise, we'd have to chuck mathematics, physics, history, archaeology, and all the historical sciences. Not to mention logic.

* There is no consensus constitutional definition of the term 'religion,' but it seems pretty clear from Supreme Court cases like Seeger that merely taking a stance on the (non)existence of a deity or deities would not be sufficient. (Query, incidentally, whether this means that public schools could teach atheism as a true (or most probably true) matter of fact. I probably wouldn't want that, as a policy matter; I'm merely pointing out that doing so might be constitutional.)

April 11, 2009 8:16 PM  
Blogger Russell Blackford said...

I would object vigorously to the state teaching school kids that God doesn't exist, rather than teaching kids facts about the world in a religion-blind manner ... and letting them work out for themselves whether any of those facts undermine their religious beliefs.

But it's different if an atheistic philosopher argues for atheism in a philosophy of religion course at a state university.

The former certainly looks as if it is the state impeding (and to some degree "prohibiting") the free exercise of religion by religious children. Parents are allowed to do that, but the state isn't. I doubt that the courts would have much trouble agreeing with me on this, whether or not a very literal interpretation of the word "prohibiting" in the first amendment would support it (the US courts are not literal-minded in interpreting the constitution - quite the opposite).

The latter is rather different: in university-level philosophy courses in reputable institutions, it is always a given that the views put by the lecturer are open to being contested by the students. They are just one more set of materials for philosophy students to grapple with (though the lecturer can obviously provide information on matters of scientific or historical fact, or stipulate the meaning of terminology for the purpose of the particular course, and so on).

Philosophers usually even remember to explain this to their students, in case it doesn't go without saying. (I always make a big point about the fact that no one gets marks for happening to agree with my opinions). So no one's free exercise of their religion is impeded in any way.

April 11, 2009 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an agnostic, I doubt the existence of an afterlife. But I quite honestly hope that there is an uncomfortable corner of some kind of purgatory for the dumb ass, stupid, clotwitted, no-mind creationists.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Being as silly and doltish as those people are may be punishment enough in itself.

April 11, 2009 9:45 PM  
OpenID sunnyskeptic said...

Wow. It's amazing when people pretend questions are statements to get out of answering them. Good times!

April 12, 2009 8:55 AM  
Blogger Elentar said...

Ruse is falling into a trap that many "I'm an atheist, but..." apologists, including Stephen J. Gould, fell into. They define religion as a benign form of deism, and then say that if science contradicts religion, then it has moved out of bounds. The problem here is that Ruse et al are not the Pope--or, as they seem to think, some sort of Super Pope. They don't get to define what religion is. Anyone can rattle off any set of beliefs, capped with the words "...and that's my religion" and presto--it is! Believers define their own religions, and there is scarcely a single scientific fact that is not contradicted by some religious belief held by someone in the world.

What Ruse is advocating here is nothing less than the complete abolition of all scientific education. And he may soon find himself in the docket as an expert witness for the creationists in a future court case. if his argument stands in court, it could serve as a basis for a rash of challenges, not only to the teaching of evolution, but to the teaching of any scientific knowledge.

April 12, 2009 1:35 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

What Ruse is advocating here is nothing less than the complete abolition of all scientific education. Ruse would still have students whose parents do not object to evolutionary theory learn about it. That's the problem.

He's setting up an apartheid system, while denying that he's doing it by saying, "Basic Christianity doesn't require believers to take the Bible literally." What BS. Christians don't take the crucifixion and resurrection literally? That's news to me! In which case, why are they Christians at all?

We recently were accosted at our door and me on Nicollet Mall by people who obviously take the death and resurrection of Christ as a literal event that actually happened in time and space. Of course Christianity requires Christians to take the Bible literally! If we evolved, then there was no Fall - and no need for a resurrection.

I'd like to get at Ruse's motivation for saying such a thing. That's why he wouldn't answer - he doesn't want to reveal his true goals. However, I suspect that he just doesn't want too many riff-raff educated so as to challenge his apparently shaky position in academia. It's obvious to me that he is jealous of the influence of Dawkins and Dennett and Tabash.

April 14, 2009 1:07 PM  
Blogger Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Kristine, if it makes you feel any better, I pretty much was given a public snow job by Hugh Ross when I attempted to ask him a hard question on the implications of his views regarding evolution. I asked him if his views on the seeming similarities between primates essentially placed God in the role of being a deceiver, a position he had disavowed on an earlier point, the age of the Earth. He responded that a) Neanderthals have huge nasal cavities, unlike modern humans and b) he doesn't like to refer to other man-like creatures as 'hominids', and instead prefers the term 'bipedal primate.'

Which would be like me telling you I don't like the term 'atheist' and instead prefer the expression 'momentarily puzzled.'

Anyway, I like Ruse and own a few of his books, but I think he misspoke on this point and he should have clarified what he was saying. He's not a lawyer, and if his only point is that some enterprising attorney might invoke the Establishment Clause on that point then it's not that big a deal. But if he's saying, yes, such-and-such which should be standard science pedagogy runs afoul of the Constitution, then I've got a big problem with that. It's not just incorrect, it's wrong-headed to say such things in public and potentially damage the ability of real science educators to educate.

April 18, 2009 5:42 PM  
Blogger Michael Drake said...

Scott, the problem is that Ruse didn't misspeak. Or if he did, he's been "misspeaking" the same way for at least three years. (See the link in my comment above.)

April 19, 2009 12:37 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Ruse didn't misspeak, Scott. He repeated his position, then backpedaled when it suited him. I was sitting with Randi's assistant and a few other people who became quite irritated at Ruse, whereupon during the Pi question Ruse turned and gave me such a look of anger that I was startled. He doesn't like being challenged.

If he had presented this question as a rhetorical one ("Couldn't someone argue that teaching evolution is thus unconstitutional," etc.) that would be one thing - but he was so obviously proud of his question, feeling that he had "shown up" the atheist/humanist/skeptic community, because he apparently feels that he is more scientific than they, a claim not unlike that of Ben Stein's.

What plan of action, then, does he advocate? None. It's simple desconstruction for the sake of appearing "smarter." I have no patience for it, and as you say, it certainly doesn't help science teachers!

April 19, 2009 6:12 PM  
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